UTILITY pIck GAINS SUppORT FROM FORMER DETRAcTORS
As City Manager Marc Ott returns today from California, where he finished a last round of due-diligence research on his pick to run Austin Energy, some early skeptics now accept the choice.
When Larry Weis, Ott’s pick, and two other Californiabased finalists were announced a month ago, Mayor Lee Leffingwell had been open to the idea of reopening the search but said this week, “it’s time to move forward” with Ott’s choice. At least two other council members raised questions about the search process, but that has not led to a push to reopen the search.
Representatives of the business community said they were impressed with Weis, head of the Turlock Irrigation District in Northern California. Initially, many environmental activists were surprised that the finalists did not include Karl Rábago, who oversees Austin Energy’s renewable-energy programs. Although they stopped pushing for Rábago once Ott made clear he wanted an external candidate, a panel of environmentalists and advocates for the poor declared that none of the finalists were suitable.
Robin Rather is among the activists still pushing to reopen the search. “It is not at all clear he’s got the right stuff for a dynamic clean industry powerhouse like Austin,” she said.
Tom “Smitty” Smith, head of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, a government watchdog and environmental advocacy group, said he still holds similar concerns about Weis’ vision for the utility. But Smith said he saw enough good qualities in Weis — including a commitment to transparency and concerns that large-scale carbon use is hurting the environment — that he trusts Ott’s choice.